Among the interesting public discussions during Miami Art Week was a conversation on collecting presented at the Pinta art fair at Mana Contemporary. Moderated by art historian Roc Laseca, the discussion featured collector Jorge M. Pérez and Anelys Álvarez-Muñoz, co-curator of A Sense of Place: Selections from the Jorge M. Pérez Collection, which was also presented at Mana Contemporary. Other panelists included Serge Tiroche, co-founder of the Tiroche DeLeon Collection, and Catherine Petitgas, curator of Everything You Are I Am Not, an exhibition from the collection that was also on view at Mana.
The conversation gave Pérez an opportunity to speak in detail about his collecting interests and how they’ve evolved over time. “I’m much more of a collector from the heart,” he remarked. “I never collect with the thought of: This artist is going to become more valuable in the future. I collect with the thought of: Is he a great artist? And does he have an impact on me?”
From the beginning, Pérez said, a driving force behind his collecting has been “to have a very good classical Latin American collection that was part of a public collection in Miami.” With that in mind, he focused primarily on “the three countries that had the most impact on me: the south, Argentina, where I was born; Cuba, where my parents came from; and Colombia, where I grew up.” And Mexico, because in all of Latin America, “Mexico was the country that looked most toward its native art. The muralists looked inside and exalted the indigenous culture, as opposed to the rest of the South American countries, which in general did not.”
Once Pérez donated this part of his collection to the Miami Art Museum (now the Pérez Art Museum Miami), he was free to focus more on contemporary artists. “I really wanted to get involved in the artistic process,” he explained. “I couldn’t ask Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo to tell me why they painted this and how they did it and what it meant to them. But with young artists, or mid-career or older artists, I can.”
With his personal collection promised as a gift to the museum (including the works in A Sense of Place), looking for art is, for Pérez, a collaborative experience, involving the curators of his collection, outside curators, gallerists, artists, and curators from the museum.
“Every time,” he said, “We’ll go: How does that fit into the collection, how does that? We’re always thinking of what is going to complement the museum collection.”
Occasionally, though, personal passion wins out. “Many times, even though [the curators] would say, ‘Well, it doesn’t really fit,’ if I love it, I still buy it,” Pérez said. In addition to his personal and museum-oriented collecting, Pérez is involved in the art placed in the public spaces of his development projects, including site-specific works.
While Latin American art remains a focus, Pérez has begun adding other artists to his collection—among them John Chamberlain, Niki de Saint Phalle, and more recently, Donald Sultan, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and the Cameroon-Belgian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou.
As a collector, Pérez said, it’s important to him to promote individual artists. He and his team try to buy work by artists they think are “young stars,” so they can help promote them. Many have gone on to gain broader recognition. “There’s a great pride,” he said, “not because they’re more valuable to us, but because they have become successful in the perception of the art world.”
That mix of emerging and established artists in dialogue with each other is evident in the exhibition, said Anelys Álvarez-Muñoz, co-curator of A Sense of Place. In addition to examining the ideas expressed in the artworks, she said, she and co-curator Patricia Hanna were interested in using the exhibition as a way to explore Pérez’s own collecting practices. “In that sense,” she said, “we chose pieces that were relevant to Jorge’s personal collection, and to the countries that he feels more strongly about.”
A Sense of Place is organized around four key topics, with Cuban art and artists well represented throughout the show. (For more works by Cuban artists in the exhibition, see the photo album on the Cuban Art News Facebook page.)
As part of the opening section on memory, José Bedia’s Estupor del cubanito en territorio ajeno, 2000, greeted visitors as they entered the exhibition. “It’s a piece that means a lot to Jorge,” said Álvarez-Muñoz. “It reminds him of his own experience when he came to the United States,” and its placement, “right there in front of the text that introduces the exhibition,” is an indication of its significance for Pérez.
For this segment of the exhibition, said Álvarez-Muñoz, “we chose artists that deal with ideas of exile, migration, memory, displacement.” Selected artists included Douglas Arguëlles, Glenda León, Atelier Morales, Enrique Martínez Celaya, and Sandra Ramos.
The second section, on the theme of social and political discourse, was the exhibition’s largest segment. There, the curators took care to set into dialogue work by artists from different countries. In one of these subgroups, said Álvarez-Muñoz, “we created a dialogue about contemporary society, the loss of individualization, the manipulation of information,” with works by Damian Ortega, Fernando Brice, Jairo Alfonso, and René Francisco.
Other artists in the section on social and political discourse included Tomás Esson, Abel Barroso, Alexis Esquivel, Tania Bruguera, Roberto Fabelo, Carlos Rodríguez Cárdenas, Los Carpinteros, and Reynier Leyva Novo.
The third section explored themes of architecture and the city. “In this piece by Carlos Garaicoa, for example,” said Álvarez-Muñoz, “he photographs these advertisements from old stores, and then manipulates them to create ceramic pieces [with] a totally different meaning.” The contemporary interpretation is surrealistic, she said, but with a clear intention. “At the beginning, you can laugh about it, but it has a strong meaning. It’s political, in the sense that he’s also talking to politicians. He’s using that slogan to play with that, and to make a comment on contemporary conditions.”
Other artists in the section on architecture and the city included Arianma Contino, whose 2014 work from the Vértice series depicts a hand-cut-paper skyscraper slowly being buried in paper, and Los Carpinteros, represented by an architectural model made of steel and the 2008 large-scale watercolor triptych Parte de parte.
The exhibition’s final section focused on abstraction. Again, said Álvarez-Muñoz, the idea was to create a dialogue between “old masters of abstract art” like Zilia Sánchez “with younger artists who use that language, not to reproduce it . . . but to create their own discourse.” She pointed to José Ángel Vincench, “whose work uses abstraction but is very political.” His work in the show is titled Gusano, “the name that the Cuban government gives to people who are not in agreement with the regime,” Álvarez-Muñoz noted.
While Álvarez-Muñoz saw the Vincench work as engaging in dialogue with a work by French/Peruvian abstractionist Regina Aprijaskis, she and Hanna paired Zilia Sánchez’s untitled canvas of 1971 with work by younger Mexican artists José Dávila and Omar Barquet.
As the Pinta conversation drew to a close, Pérez was asked about how his collecting practice addresses the future. “That’s all we do—think about the future,” he responded. “For me, art is something that will be enjoyed by generations of people, whose lives are going to be affected by it, just like it affects mine.” In conclusion, he said, “we’re always thinking about this being a public collection that makes Miami a better place in which to live.”